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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Encouraging Signs for Women's Leadership in the AVMA House of Delegates in 2014

By Donald F. Smith, Cornell University, and Julie Kumble, Women's Fund of Western Massachusetts

In the companion article posted on July 31st,[1] we reported that the percentage of women delegates in the current House of Delegates (HOD) is 31.4%.[2] As hopeful as those data appeared relative to the proportion of women we reported a year ago (25%),[3]  we also expressed concern that the voting power of women delegates was constrained because of the proportional weight of the delegates from the ten largest states, eight of whom are men. This is not to imply that men who serve on the HOD fail to make wise and informed decisions, but rather that the deliberations of a decision-making body as critical to the profession as the HOD, should be more representative of the gender profile of the AVMA membership, which is now well over 50% women.

In this article, we present data that further define the demographic profile of women in the House. The following graph shows the percentage of men and women HOD members (delegates and alternates are combined in this graph), segmented by years of graduation from veterinary college.

The high proportion of women HOD members who graduated in the most recent five-year periods (including the years 1995-99 and 2000-04) represents the period when the percentage of women graduates increased from approximately 65% to 72% of the aggregate of US colleges. Though the number of HOD women delegates and alternates who graduated during these two five-year periods is not large (15 and 5, respectively), there appears to be a close parallel between the percentage of women graduating during this period and the percentage of women delegates and alternates in the House. 
Percentage of men and women in House of Delegates 
segmented by years of graduation from veterinary college. 
Delegates and alternates are combined in this graph.
(From AVMA website,, July 1, 2014)[4]

This is especially encouraging because it shows progress over the proportion of women in the HOD who graduated in the 15 previous years (1980-1994). Women who graduated during that earlier period have lower proportionate representation in the HOD compared to their male colleagues. For example, while the proportion of women graduates ranged from about 40% in the early 1980s, increasing to 50% in the late 1980s, and to 60% in the early 1990s, the percentage of women currently in the HOD who graduated during that period was far less, ranging from 20% (early 1980s) to less than 40% a decade later. 

There may be multiple personal, professional and even institutional reasons why women who graduated more recently (1995-2004) are proportionately well-represented in the House. We do not assume that these demographic changes are happening simply because more women are graduating and joining the profession.  After all, the evidence from earlier graduating years (noted above) do not support that conclusion any more than well-documented evidence from other professions.

Though the numbers are not high, the data presented here are encouraging. In the future, we would like to explore potential causative factors and propose recommendations for replicating successful strategies to encourage even greater proportions of female participation.

While not simply a numbers issue—women don’t add value by just being at the table—we believe that the women who have been in the HOD and who are being added now in greater numbers, are not only making a substantive and positive difference, but have great capacity to add real value to the profession as we face the challenges ahead.

By Dr. Donald F. Smith and Julie Kumble, Director of Grants and Programs, Women’s Fund of Western Massachusetts, Easthampton, Massachusetts 01027. She can be reached at
The authors thank Dr. Lisa Greenhill, Associate Executive Director for Institutional Research and Diversity at AAVMC, for her contributions and review of this story; also Mr. Nate Watson ’17 for his contributions to data collection.

Dr. Smith invites comments at

[1] Smith, Donald F. and Julie Kumble. “Women in the AVMA’s 2014 House of Delegates, with Some Government Comparisons.” Perspectives in Veterinary Medicine, July 15, 2014.
[2] AVMA web site, Jul 1, 2014. 
[3] Smith Donald F. and Julie Kumble. “Women’s Leadership in the U.S. Congress and the AVMA’s House of Delegates: Exploring Parallels and Looking Forward.” Perspectives in Veterinary Medicine, April 28, 2013.
[4] Source, AVMA website, July 1, 2014, Ibid.